A panoramic epic freighted with too many subplots.



A sprawling drama spanning several centuries that dramatizes the treatment of African slaves and Native Americans throughout history. 

In the present day, Billy Davis inherits land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley that’s been in his family for 170 years. However, it’s a financial burden to maintain given his work limitations; as a consequence of losing part of his leg serving in Afghanistan, he collects disability, and he’s fallen perilously behind on the plot’s taxes. Billy happens upon a jug while digging on his property and also finds a ring that turns out to be surprisingly valuable. Tidemann (The Elk and Other Stories, 2013, etc.) chronicles the tangled history of the ring and the land in a sometimes-confusing tale that begins with the journey of English explorer Sir Francis Drake to Oregon in 1579. Drake liberates Maria, a beautiful African slave, from a Spanish ship that he commandeers, and the two have a torrid affair. He gives her an amulet that ends up, many years later, in the possession of Wallace O’Malley, a wealthy businessman and slave owner in the American South. Wallace’s daughter, Carissa, falls in love with Philip Davis, whose father, Corville, is Billy’s great-great-great-great-grandfather and the owner of a hotel on the land that Billy later occupies. The bond between Philip and Carissa is threatened by the political tumult of the Civil War; Philip is opposed to slavery and joins the Union Army to fight against it, while Wallace devotes himself to defending that grim institution. Philip is an ardent defender of the rights of Native Americans, as well—his best friend, Little Elk, is a Klickitat—and he’s drawn into a brewing conflict when a wave of white settlers comes to Oregon.  Tidemann’s mastery of the complex nuances of multiple historical periods is extraordinary. Also, his prose style, especially in dialogue, is consistently faithful to the period in which it occurs—no mean feat, considering the frequent vacillations between various eras. The author’s ambition is breathtaking as he attempts to weave several competing storylines into one coherent narrative—a grand drama that encompasses no less than the entire history of the nation. However, Tidemann indulges in so many different subplots that the novel becomes an increasingly tedious challenge to follow, and the convolution is only exacerbated by the aforementioned temporal swings. Also, the author’s attraction to overarching moral lessons tends to result in clichéd contrivances, such as Wallace’s explanation for his devotion to slavery: “I owned human beings, because that was the only way I could keep from feeling owned myself.” Furthermore, the author’s impressive desire to weave a seamless fictional tapestry out of so many sundry parts results in some clumsily forced elements, as when Billy’s wife, Sarah, writes a doctoral dissertation on the “Early European contact with indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.” Many of the digressive plotlines could simply have been discarded, including one that follows the relationship of a Union officer and Little Elk’s sister, Sidnayoh.

A panoramic epic freighted with too many subplots. 

Pub Date: May 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984978-09-7

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Northwest Passages

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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